You read it here first (I assume). Not one, not two, but three Rapid Bucharest successor clubs were registered for the new season in the bottom tier of the football pyramid in the capital, Liga 5. One has already ditched its claims to rapidity, but two remain. A curious and disheartening state of affairs…
AFC Rapid Bucureşti. CFR Mișcarea Feroviară. Each lays claim to the 93-year history of the city’s third team, the fallen giants most recently known as FC Rapid Bucureşti. The club, which has won two league titles since the end of communism and which was competing in the UEFA Cup as recently as 2012, ceased to exist in July; but, rather than thousands of supporters all coming together to start a new fan-owned entity, more than one phoenix club is rising from the ashes down by the Grivița railway works.
In their first competitive fixture as the new entity last weekend, AFC Rapid took on (A)SSC Rapid (Baneasa) at Giulesti stadium on Sunday morning. Meanwhile, Miscarea were making their debut at the Electroaparataj stadium in their away game against Milanneto.
AFC Rapid should have played their first game last Friday 2nd September, away at Frăția II, but that match was postponed because AFC needed a letter from the liquidator of the old Rapid club officially releasing youth team players from the defunct entity to sign elsewhere.
AFC is said to be backed financially by George Copos – who acquired Rapid in 1993 and oversaw their most successful period of modern times, but then took the club into insolvency in 2012 and in 2013 was sentenced to prison for corruption (both football-related and not) – which has caused many fans to think twice about supporting the new entity. It is run by Rapid’s former marketing director Horia Manoliu and thus has a connection with the former owners, who are widely blamed for the club’s demise. [Copos, who owns the Athenee Palace Hilton in Bucharest, is currently being investigated on plagiarism charges related to books he published while in prison – in Romania, scientific activity shortens your sentence. Really. For a summary of the events leading up to his release in 2015, and by extension the madness of the Romanian treatment of millionaire prisoners, try here!] On the plus side, AFC claims the legal rights to the history and honours of the old Rapid: Copos is said to have gifted the palmares to Manoliu personally in the event of the club’s liquidation.
However, the president of the Rapid Sports Club, from which the now defunct footballing arm became detached in the 1990s, and which owns the Giuleşti stadium, gets to choose which of the clubs, if any, can play at Rapid’s historic home ground. Happily (perhaps) it has decided that both AFC and CFR can play their home games there, which will therefore have to take place on alternate weekends.
While hundreds of spectators (including us) were still outside the stadium queuing due to a ticketing problem, AFC Rapid made a lively start, scoring after four minutes through Bărbălău. In a scene of total domination by the home side, who were clearly far fitter and in most cases more skilful, it still took until the 30th minute for the second goal to arrive; but that the hotly-tipped and unmarked number 10 Costi Berechet put Ionita’s cross over the line with his chest was an obvious marker of his team’s superiority. Some poor finishing and (when they could get close enough) dogged defending ensured that Ionita’s fine finish would be the only further score before half-time.
Every goal was greeted with an exaggerated “Goooooooooool Rapiiiiiid!” over the PA system – eliciting embarrassed chuckles from the crowd – and the announcer also kept us abreast of the score, in the absence of a working electronic scoreboard. Sweating gently and feeling our skin burning, at half-time we climbed to the back of the stand to benefit from a breeze blowing off the railway tracks.
SSC Rapid were playing in white, having appeared last week in a very non-Rapidish green, and after one match had already become SSC Băneasa, at least on our tickets. Rumour has it that some of its players are Dinamo fans and objected to playing under the (entirely bogus) Rapid name. They had by this early stage of the season renounced any claim to continuation of the old Rapid spirit.
Having seen most of the Băneasa players puffing and blowing from the effort of keeping up with their youthful and energetic opponents, and in many cases stopping for a rest rather than giving chase, it seemed reasonable to expect that the second half would bring a goalfest. Rapid attacked well down the flanks, using their huge pace advantage, but too often the final ball or the finish would lack accuracy. Băneasa’s goalkeeper was forced to bring down Tonea in the penalty area early in the second period, and Alberto Stancu duly despatched the fourth goal from 11 metres. In spite of the crowd’s encouragement, Rapid lacked urgency and it didn’t really matter that they struggled to finish off one swift passing move after another. Stancu walked the ball in to make it five, but his team had butchered chance after chance after repeatedly slicing open the visitors’ sluggish defence, and Băneasa can consider themselves lucky. They showed some good individual skill, in particular the corpulent number 3 in midfield, but never had the speed to threaten the home defence in open play.
The crowd of over a thousand seemed to leave fairly contented, glad to still have a club to support, and there is hope for the future of this group of young players, mostly born in 1998-99. Who knows if anyone will turn up for away matches on fields and waste-ground pitches around the city, but for now today’s takings just about covered the cost of putting the game on (about 6,000 lei, or 1,350 euro). Who knows, either, where the ultras will end up – they were notable absentees today, but there was a small scuffle on the stands when a group of lads unfurled a banner saying ‘This is not Rapid’ and were quickly made to see they were not welcome by other fans nearby.
Meanwhile, across town, the other remaining contender for crown of Rapid’s successors, CFR Mișcarea Feroviara, is coached by Vasile Caciureac, a Rapid player in the early ’90s. The club was founded by Clubul Aristocratic Rapid, a group of well-connected supporters, with the support of the Rapid Sports Club. (The president of the sports club is Vali Ionescu-Caciureac, a former Olympic athlete and Vasile’s wife.) Mișcarea Feroviara is a transport union under the auspices of the Ministry of Transport, so in a way the club is going back to its roots as a club of the railway workers. There is a suggestion that, because FC Rapid belonged to the ministry until being separated from the sports club and sold into private ownership in 1994, the new railways club would retain the palmares from 1923 up to that point (nine Romanian Cups and one league title), and AFC Rapid would have the record only from 1994-2016 (four cups and two championships). This split would clearly be unsatisfactory and I imagine people are assuming that one or the other of these clubs disappears before either reaches the national league system at Liga 3 level.
Caciureac was initially lined up to oversee another new team, AS FC Rapid – which was to be the Sporting Club’s football arm – with former Rapid defender Adrian Iencsi as coach. AS FC was reportedly in discussions with an established local soccer school, VK Soccer, run by the son of ’60s Rapid legend Viorel Kraus, to take on some of their junior teams. VK Soccer played in Liga 4 last season, but did not register for the competition this season, giving fuel to the rumours. (VK have since registered in Liga 5 – and kicked off the season with an 11-0 away win.)
Miscarea ran out 3-0 winners in front of a paltry audience, promising greater things on their first home appearance at Giulesti next weekend. The players apparently received a win bonus of 200 lei (45 euro) each.
Non-league is not, of course, immune to the universal incompetence of the people running the game in Romania. Hence Bucharest’s Liga 5 is divided into two ‘series’ of ten teams, with no indication of how promotion will be determined (there is no relegation because there is nowhere lower to go) or how the teams will reach the federation’s minimum number of games (22) to make up an officially recognised season. On this topic, for some reason several Liga 5 teams played this midweek in the Romanian Cup. Not the 2016-17 edition, but the 2017-18 edition. Good to get an early start I suppose.
Till next time…